Equipping Leaders….Practically Speaking

Dr. John Jackson for Rev. Magazine D© 2006

         Effective leaders do four things:  they cast vision, they create environments, they develop systems, and they equip leaders.  Of all these things, equipping leaders has got to be the most difficult!  But, over time and with lots of blood and sweat, I’ve learned a few things I think might be worth your consideration. In my ministry as a pastor, writer, and speaker, I’m most often asked about developing other leaders (see www.pastorpreneur.com for additional resources).  How do you grow people to spiritual maturity and maximum Kingdom impact? How can we develop our leadership team to our greatest potential?   In my experience, there are 5 specific practices that produce positive benefits:

Life on Life.  I know of no other way to sow into a life other than doing life together.  Sharing your life with those you lead will involve formal and informal times together.  The journey is a combination of parenting, dating, marriage, and team sports!  By the way…EVERY time I’ve had a leadership failure on my teams, it is due (at least in part) to the fact that we didn’t stay connected “life on life”

  • WE GO OUT FOR COFFEE WITH NO AGENDA.
  • WE SPEND TIME IN EACH OTHERS HOMES
  • WE SHARE RECREATIONAL PASSIONS (SKIING, FISHING, HIKING, THE GYMN, VIDEO GAMES, ETC.)

Training.  One of the meanings of the Hebrew word for training is “to make narrow”.  Specific skill training helps to provide skills and strategic understandings.  Since vision is always more “caught” than “taught”, the process of training often provides great vision refining moments.

  • EACH OF OUR PROGRAM STAFF IS EXPECTED AND ENCOURAGED TO SHARPEN THEIR OWN STRENGTH BASED TOOLKIT
  • WE ATTEND 1-2 KEY TRAINING EVENTS A YEAR TOGETHER WHERE WE HAVE AN “IRON SHARPENING EXPERIENCE”

Benchmarking.  There is great value in exposing your leadership team to greatness.  Visiting other churches that are doing a great job in ministry can elevate the thinking of everyone involved.  I’ve become so committed to this practice, that each member of our pastoral team is encouraged to visit at least two other churches annually for the purpose of learning their story and benchmarking their ministry practices.  Not only are these trips in addition to conferences, but we provide the funds for the trip to include the spouse and possibly the family.

  • WE TRACK 10-15 KEY CHURCH WEBSITES AND LEARN FROM THEIR COMMUNICATIONS AND STRUCTURES
  • WE ALWAYS WATCH CHURCHES THAT ARE AT LEAST TWICE THE SIZE WE ARE…THEY’VE BEEN WHERE WE HAVE BEEN AND THEY ARE GOING WHERE WE ARE GOING

Leadership Development.  Both Jim Collins and John Maxwell talk about “levels” of leadership.  My experience suggests that we must teach people that leadership is a process, NOT an event.  Helping people to see their leadership potential unfold over time is part of the process of effective equipping.  We are working hard in our own church to provide “first serve” opportunities in every ministry and to cultivate “high capacity” leaders who can effectively lead other leaders.

  • EACH MINISTRY TRIES TO PROVIDE BOTH KINDS OF SERVICE OPPORTUNITIES(FIRST SERVE AND HIGH CAPACITY)
  • WE ARE CONSTANTLY “ON THE PROWL” FOR EMERGING AND DEVELOPING LEADERS; EACH OF OUR KEY LEADERS IS POURING THEIR LIFE INTO OTHERS AND COMITTED TO PERSONAL LIFE LONG LEARNING

Shared Experiences.  Leadership equipping happens best in community.  At our church (www.cvcwired.com), we have an 8 year history of some amazing growth and leadership development.  There have been some incredible individual moments of ministry.  But the more we do ministry, the more we are committed to doing ministry together—as teams of people with shared vision and passion.  So, we are structuring lots of experiences where people can have the shared experience of working together, facing challenges, cultivating vision, and deepening their relationships with Christ and one another.  Leadership equipping is not a solo sport!

  • WE TRY NOT TO LET ANYTHING BE A “SOLO” SPORT….WE’RE CONSTANTLY TRYING TO CONNECT PEOPLE IN TEAMS
  • MANY OF OUR TEAMS ARE STARTING TO DO LOCAL OUTREACH PROJECTS TOGETHER AS A WAY TO GROW FORWARD IN MINISTRY

Effective leaders equip leaders.  The fruit of that ministry produces a ripple effect that reaches the shores of heaven.  The Apostle Paul was clear about that in 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 when he wrote,  “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy”.  At our church, we say “Changed Lives are Our Business”.  We’ve learned over time that equipping leaders is a core technology that is at the heart of our business!

“Overcoming Growth Barriers”

© Dr. John Jackson, 2006

         Barriers to your ministry vision do exist!  Some of them you know about, others are perceptible, but others hide under the surface and threaten to damage your ministry leadership.  I think there are two kinds of barriers that exist:  A “growth barrier” is a set of qualitative factors that create a ceiling to quantitative progress.  A “leadership barrier” is a barrier that exists in the mind, the heart, or the gift mix of the church leader(s).  This article focuses on “growth barriers” (a future article will address the leadership barriers).  Of the growth barriers, the 200 barrier is the most notable in that 85% of churches in North America stay below it.  The dynamics that relate to this barrier are mostly predicable, and from the leadership perspective, it marks the quantitative divide between small churches and large churches.

Tools to Break Barriers

Each size has a different DNA and size constraint. In my observation, there are at least 6 fundamentals that will help you and your church break through ministry growth barriers at any level:

Clarity of vision

Certainty of leadership

Unity of leadership

Connection with Community

Excellence in Presentation

Faithfulness in Follow Through

CLARITY OF VISION

         Growing Churches have a heart for reaching people for Jesus Christ.  If your vision is to care for the contented, then you will not produce passion in your people to reach those outside the boundaries of the church family.  Walt Kallestad’s book entitled, Turn Your Church Inside Out is probably the easiest reading and clearest reference that I have read in years on this topic.  Clarity of vision must answer the question, “Who does my church exist for?”

One of the exciting dynamics of having a clear vision is recognizing the need to be present in the community.  Rather than waiting for the community to show up on the church’s doorstep, churches that break growth barriers practice what some call, “Presence Evangelism”; being present in the normal network of society, being present in the ministry to physical needs of people, and being present in the spiritual battle for people’s souls.

“Churches that are effective reaching people for Christ see the needs of the unchurched, establish ministries that allow the church to be present in the community, and have a process by which they are able to draw these unchurched people into the safety of Christ and a local church” (Mcintosh & Martin, Finding Them, Keeping Them, Page 22).

UNITY OF LEADERSHIP

         Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Community Church in the San Diego area, has written a great book entitled The Unity Factor.  While it is a small book, it has a powerful message:  “Get the key influencers in your church to share a common vision.  Sacrifice today for the promise of tomorrow in these peoples lives.”  Without leadership unity, there will be no lasting ministry growth that breaks through barriers.

         Listen to this quote from a committed leader in a local church about the importance of leadership unity:

“At our church my wife and I are giving time we don’t have and tons of money because it’s important.  Do you think we are going to let sick people kill that work and investment? Heavens no!  It’s costing us way too much!  For every sick, agenda laden, divisive, contentious, person in our church we aren’t willing to confront (out of fear we say “oh that’s just the way they are,” “I don’t think God wants us to treat people like that”), there are 10, 20, 100, 1000 people out there to be won to Christ that won’t because they sniff out the contentiousness and will go somewhere else.  Do we want to stand before God and say we did the math wrong, or that we didn’t have the guts to make way for 100s more to come to Christ by not tackling these problems decisively?” (Don Nelson, personal conversation)

CONNECTION WITH COMMUNITY

Some members and even leaders of churches have no understanding of the communities in which they live, work, and serve.  Sometimes this is due to a “Christian Bubble” they live in, seldom interacting with the unchurched around them.  But other times this lack of awareness is simply a lack of homework:  to know your community, you must study it.  Who lives near your church?

For example, imagine that your ministry is located in a community where the annual household income (an easily obtained figure) is $80,000 and one in six households has an income that exceeds $140,000.  How would your outreach focus be different than a church that is located in the heart of a college community with thousands of people who are single?  The heart of the gospel would never change, but the way that you advertise, the way you perform music and the style of speaking would all be vastly different.

Growing Churches break through growth barriers because they are effective students of their community culture.  If the local McDonald’s owner knows more about your community than you do as a pastor, then your church is in trouble.  Breaking through growth barriers means you understand how to reach your community.  Robert Schuller said it best when he proclaimed that churches must “find a need and fill it, find a hurt and heal it”.  Barrier busting ministry always finds a way to connect with the community and meet needs in the name of Christ.

EXCELLENCE IN PRESENTATION

         Unchurched people have come to expect (but not accept!) mediocrity whenever they do attend church.  And churchgoers have come to accept and expect mediocrity from others as well as ourselves when it comes to presentation-oriented ministry.  Few people have the guts to stand up and say, “This is bad.  God is not pleased with us offering the leftovers of what we could offer Him.”  God is pleased with sacrifice, with excellence, with our best.  Consider this warning from Malachi:

“When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty (Malachi 1:8, NIV)

Excellence in your weekend service presentation is critical to your success in taking new ground for the Kingdom.  I believe most churches need to narrow their “targets” of excellence. For most churches today, I think of these 3 excellence “targets” as essential:

  • Excellence in weekend teaching
  • Excellence in worship and musical presentation
  • Excellence in children’s ministries

When our church, Carson Valley Christian Center (now LifePoint Church in NV; http://www.lifepointnv.com)  was planted and launched in February 1998, we committed to those 3 areas from the start.  People are attracted to and stay at a church because excellence in one or more of these “top three” areas, and so they simply must have the utmost priority for your entire fellowship.  Sometimes, the dark question which few churches have the guts to ask their people is this:  “Would you invite your unchurched friends and neighbors to our church if the presentation in one or more of the ‘top three’ areas were improved?  Does our mediocrity prevent you from inviting anyone to our church?”

We live in a time where “ought” doesn’t cut it any more.  Saying to someone that they “ought” to come to church won’t budge them from their lethargy.  But, presenting a warm and excellent worship service that touches their heart, stimulates their mind, and engages their soul will break through the barriers of their heart resistance.  Paying attention to specific ministry needs (children’s ministry, first touch ministry, and age graded programming) with excellence demonstrates commitment to your vision of reaching people. 

Sometimes churches are failing to offer an excellent well-rounded presentation on the weekends because the church is trying to do more than it can do well.  Obviously, the goal would be to do all of it well.  But I challenge you first to do fewer things “well” rather than more things “poorly.” 

FAITHFULNESS IN FOLLOW THROUGH

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9, NIV)

Once you know what the right thing is for your vision, your leadership, your community…just do it!  Do it over and over again.  Do it well.  Do it right.  Do it consistently and faithfully.  Persistent execution of your vision will produce a harvest.  Practice continuous improvement and be a laser beam rather than a shotgun.  A “shotgun” approach is usually tempting to us, since it makes a lot of noise and produces an immediate response from our people!  But the “laser beam” approach will be quieter and more exacting, and will yield results worth waiting for.  A harvest!

It has been my experience that “staying the course” relates to four specific dimensions; each of them require constant attention and pose strategic questions:

Call:  Are you clear about God’s call on your life, your call to ministry, and the vision He has for you and for those you shepherd?

Character:  What are the essentials of heart and mind that make up the “you” that you want to be.  What are the epitaphs you want written on your tombstone by your family, friends, AND adversaries?  Are you clear about how your character has been shaped and is shared with others?

Community:  Do you have “anchor relationships” in your life?  Are there people into whom you have invested and who both keep you accountable and can undergird your life during a storm?  All ministry flows out of relationships; are you building a community of relationships that model and contribute health in your life?

Competency:  Have you identified your gifts and are you continuously improving your kingdom effectiveness with your gift?  Are you clear about how the 80/20 rule works in your life as it relates to effectiveness?

Your church can grow!  You can reach more people for Christ and fulfill the Great Commission.  Perseverance in ministry always relates to clarity of vision AND persistence in follow through.  In short, knowing what to do and doing it consistently well is key!  This process takes time, energy, and more effort than you will have on some days.  But never give up.  In time you will reap a harvest, and God will give you wisdom and direction as you seek to bring people to Christ and grow them to maturity in Him.

“Grip-Grasp-Gifts:  Keys to Life-Changing Leadership”

© Dr. John Jackson, 2005

         Lasting life change is what spiritual leadership is all about.  Pastors and Christian business people often want to be involved in life change and yet feel frustrated at knowing how to establish a church ministry climate where leadership and evangelism passion can flourish.  These last seven years, I’ve had the privilege to lead such a place, and I think that God has taught us some key principles and practical questions to help develop my own leadership in these matters.  After publishing Pastorpreneur, many pastors and Christian business people alike have asked me, “What does it take to think like a Pastorpreneur?”  Here are the 3 steps necessary to think like a Pastorpreneur…..

  1. Grip God’s calling on your life.  This is a key step where you drill down deep and ask the fundamental life question (which I think you ask at MANY times in your life), “God…what did you make me to do?  What is the purpose of my life and how should I use my life to bring glory to you?”.
  • Grasp the needs of your community.  This is really the “missionary” question.  Robert Schuller says “Find a need and meet it, find a hurt and heal it….if you do, you will never lack opportunity to impact people’s lives for God”.  What are the needs and opportunities for impact that exist in your community?  How can you reach people for the glory of God?
  • Mobilize the Gifts of your team.  This is the team leadership question.  What are the resources you have to meet the needs of the community?  What creative strategies can you unleash to pull from your team their highest and best for the sake of impacting others for God?

If you are a Pastor, this thinking process should be bathed in prayer, shared with key leaders and become a fundamental part of your heart preparation for Pastorpreneur ministry.  If you are a Business leader, the process is much the same and will form the template for your strategic plan to leverage your business acumen into a Kingdom tool that God can use for His glory!

Let’s unpack each of those 3 principles and practices:

Grip God’s Calling on Your Life

This is the most important step in the process God’s Calling on Your Life”.  Gripping God’s call on your life is equally important as a business person and as a pastor.  Here are some essential thoughts to help grip God’s calling on your life…

1) Following God’s promise means you are partnering with the God of the universe to fulfill HIS purposes.  As Rick Warren says in the first line of Purpose Driven Life, “It is not about you”.  Gripping God’s calling means you start by recognizing that you are submitting your life to the care and calling of the creator of the universe!

2) Author Os Guinness says that the calling of God is not just for pastors. “Calling,” wrote Guinness, “is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.” (Os Guinness, The Call, (Word Publishing, Nashville, 1998,p. 4.).  Business Leaders and Pastors alike are called by God for Kingdom work!

3) Responding to God’s calling is an antidote to constantly trying to “prove yourself”.  Calling anchors your soul in God’s calling will be specific to His character, the passions He implanted in your soul, and the context of your local community

Once God’s calling is clear in your mind and heart you will then be able to pursue the gifts that He has specifically entrusted to you and your team to accomplish His purposes n your local context! Grip His calling on your life and you will become gripped by it!

Grasp the Needs of Your Community

         After you have Gripped God’s calling on your life, the next step to thinking like a PastorPreneur is to “Grasp the Needs of Your Community”.  Since Jesus called us to “Love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves” (Matthew 22:39), and He told us that our neighbors are those in need, how should we then live? 

Here are some exciting challenges to help develop your Grasp on the Needs of your Community:

  • Robert Schuller says “find a need and fill it, find a hurt and heal it…and you’ll never lack for ministry opportunity”.  He’s right.  I’ve not found a community yet, in over 25 years of pastoral, denominational, and church planting ministry that was closed to a church that reached OUT to help people
  • Bill Hybels says that it is a tragedy that the average McDonalds owner knows more about our communities than do the Pastors….and all they want to do is sell a burger and fries.  He’s right and I’m convicted about it every time I think about it.
  • You can go to “Anytown USA” and attend Chamber of Commerce meetings, community forums, school gatherings and ask 3 simple questions:  1)  What do you think is the greatest need in our community?,  2) If you were to go to a church, what would you suggest that church focus on in order to meet the needs in our community?, 3) What one factor might make you consider attending church?  When we did this in our community seven years ago, we got HUGE attention from people who were shocked that we were even asking those questions.
  • According to George Barna, about 2/3 of the unchurched people in the United States call themselves Christians!  But, when drilling deeper, their worldview is not at all consistent with Scripture.  How can you reach your community and understand what they believe?
  • Meeting needs in the name of Christ opens the door to community impact.  Christian business leaders and entrepreneurial pastors can transform a community with the power of God through need-meeting and innovative impact strategies.

When we see the needs of the people in our community, our heart should break.  Not just because of the needs, but the reality that so many are seeking to have those needs met outside a relationship with Christ.  We in the church know that the only complete answer to the questions of life is a vital union with Jesus Christ.  PastorPreneurs learn to think like Christ by seeing the needs of people as an opportunity to extend love and grace and open doors to conversation with neighbors who don’t yet know God in a personal way.

Mobilize the Gifts of Your Team

         Pastorpreneurs constantly are looking to mobilize, leverage, and maximize the gifts of God’s people for Kingdom Impact.  Christian Business Leaders and Entrepreneurial Pastors alike are aware that God’s calling and their Community’s needs require that the gifts that God has entrusted to the community of faith be identified and utilized for Kingdom Impact.  Many pastorpreneurs learn to think “outside the box” when they recognize the unique gifts that God has given to them.

In our own local community, the expressed needs of people relate to wholesome activities for children/youth and a way to connect faith and recreation together.  Though our church has only been around for 6 years, we are seeing the start of some exciting things:

  • A martial arts program where 50% of the participants don’t attend our church; the ministry leader has wanted to launch such a program for 10 years but couldn’t find the right setting
  • A dance ministry led by a woman who has had her life transformed by God’s grace and now uses her skills to the glory of God
  • A sports ministry led by a former pro football player that is just now starting to see tremendous synergy in our local community by connecting children/youth and families in positive recreational environments
  • A recovery ministry that has become an “Umbrella of Safety” for people in our community
  • A marketing ministry that creatively communicates the life changing message of God’s love using contemporary media

These are just 5 of the more than 30 ministries that exist in our seven year old church.  NONE of these ministries would or perhaps even should exist in our church EXCEPT that God entrusted specific gifts to His people and they want in the game!  One of the greatest joys of a PastorPreneur is to identify your gifts, help others identify their gifts, and then mobilize and release people for Kingdom Impact!  How many spiritual gifts are laying around unopened in your life or in the lives of those you lead?

         Your life was made to make a difference.  God wants your leadership to facilitate lasting life change for His kingdom glory.  Think different, behave different, and watch the God of heaven and earth use you for His purposes here on earth!

8 Things Christians Can Do for America

by Dr. John Jackson, with thanks to Pastor Dr. Jack Hayford of Church on the Way,

1)  Believe the Promise…“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” II Chronicles 7:14

2)  Bless Your Enemies…“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:43-44

3)  Value Life…“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” Proverbs 31:8

4)  Pursue Unity…“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”  John 17:20-21

5)  Live in Purity…“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.”Philippians 2:14-16a

6)  Serve the Needy…. “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

7)  Preserve Liberty…“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” II Corinthians 3:17

8)  Share Christ with Passion…“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

Pastorpreneur Leadership

Effective leaders know who they are, what they are supposed to do, and where they are going.  Steven Covey wrote in his book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” that effective leaders “begin with the end in mind”.  Pastorpreneurs are always looking for innovative ways to become more effective in their leadership assignments.  Let me suggest a simple definition of leadership effectiveness:  LEADERS MOBILIZE AND GALVANIZE PEOPLE TO ACCOMPLISH  WORTHY GOALS.

            If that definition of leadership effectiveness is correct, then how does a leader go about becoming effective?  Pastorpreneurs understand their roles.  Here are four specific roles and descriptions of how effective leaders operate in these roles:

Visionary:  Pastorpreneurs help people to see a preferred future and communicate that future in compelling terms.  The effective leader not only sees the future, but understands something of the road to get there

Motivator:  Pastorpreneurs are able to motivate people to buy-in to the vision of the future and commit themselves and their resources to accomplish the goals of the organization

Producer:  Pastorpreneurs make sure the right things get noticed.  Pastorpreneurs decide who will be “heroes’ in the organization by the stories they tell and the way they make specific progress towards the goals.

Analyzer:  Pastorpreneurs make sure the right things get counted.  Deciding what will be measured often determines what people pay attention to!  In church life, we typically do the A-B-C’s:  Attendance, Buildings, Cash…..but a Pastorpreneur makes sure that in addition to those things (because they are indicators), that changed lives are the focus.  Only when the focus is changed lives does the organization begin to align its resources, activities, and heartbeat.

            Dale Galloway, former pastor of New Hope Community Church in Portland, Oregon and the director of the D.Min. program at Beeson Divinity School, says that there are 15 things that leaders must do

-Make Decisions                                          -Solve Problems     

-Take Responsibility                                   -Have a Sense of Timing

-Get up for the Game                                  -Respond to a Challenge

-Lead with Enthusiasm                               -Delegate/Hold Responsible

-Match People to Mission                           -Focus

-Keep Others Focused                               -Use Momentum

-Do What is Right                                        -Seize Opportunities

-Set the Sail

            Effective leaders who are effective understand who they are, what they are to do, and where they are going.  Do you know who you are as a leader?  Do you know what you are supposed to be doing?  Most importantly, do you know where you are going?  You’ll be a more effective leader if you can answer those 3 questions with confidence!

Good News About Grace: Share It!

The previous 3 articles helped us to understand God’s grace by using the acronym:  BRUSH….we learned four things:   First you have to believe it, you have to Believe in grace.  Then, you have to Receive it.  After you’ve believed it then it becomes possible for you to receive it.  After you’ve believed it and received it you need to Understand it and this is the one that seems a little backwards.  I think that you can only really understand grace if you’ve received it.  The tragic mistake many of us make is having received God’s grace we don’t fully get to the place where we understand it. 

Well if you’ve believed it, received it and if you’ve understood it then what remains is to Share it.  If you’ve believed it, received it and understand it then we want to be able to move forward to sharing grace.  But before we go on to that, lets just restate our description of grace.  Grace is getting love and life that we do not deserve and we cannot earn from God who gives it freely.  Grace is getting love and life that we do not deserve and cannot earn from God who gives it freely.  Now you know grace is best experienced when it’s growing.  The way that grace grows in our life is when we give it away. 

How can you share grace?  How can you give grace to other people?  Here are several ways  Grace is shared when you forgive others.  Look at II Corinthians 4:15:  “All this is for your benefit, that the grace that is reaching more people may cost thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God”.  When you are able to give forgiveness what you are doing is you are extending grace.  Grace that has been given to you and has been received by you it’s something you can offer to someone else.  And what you do when you give forgiveness is that you take the grace that you’ve received and you multiply it by sharing it with someone else.

Now the truth is that it is hard to forgive people.  Don’t let anybody ever say to you that it’s easy to give forgiveness.  When we offer forgiveness to people who have wounded us,  we free ourselves from the prison that we’ve made and we make grace all the more available.  You see God didn’t give us forgiveness because we deserved it.  God didn’t give us forgiveness because we were worthy of it.  God didn’t give us forgiveness because somehow we were justified in expecting it.  God gave us forgiveness in spite of the fact that we didn’t deserve it.

There is a second way to share grace and that is, when you endure pain.  In II Corinthians: 12-9 the Apostle Paul is speaking and he says “my grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”   If you read the verses leading up to this text the Apostle Paul three times asked God to take away a painful thing in his life.   Now here is the hard truth.  There are many times when we go through pain where we wonder about the presence of God.  We say where is God in the midst of this.  This disease can’t be from God, where is he?  This relational pain I am going through, where is God.  This difficulty in a life of a loved one, where is God in that?  And we wonder where God is in the midst of pain.  I want you to know that God is there.  He is there in the very depths of that pain filled experience you’re going through.  In fact, I’ve had the privilege as a Pastor in the last 20 years of walking with people through some of the worst hours of their lives.  And I have been most helped as a pastor by people who are experiencing terrible pain, physical pain, emotional pain, relational pain and they have said “you know, pastor I’ve hated, I’ve struggled in the middle of it, I’ve asked questions of God that I never thought I would ask but God has always been present there.”

An estimated 500,000 tons of water goes over the Niagara Falls every single minute.  If you have ever been there you know the sound that it creates.  It literally is a wall of sound.  500,000 tons of water going over those walls every minute.  On March 29, 1948 the falls stopped.  There was no flow of water over Niagara Falls.  People who lived near by were literally startled and what they were startled by was the silence.  Want to know what happened?  The sheets of ice that had been in Lake Erie strong winds came and blew the sheets of ice to a point on the river in the Niagara River near Buffalo and it stopped the flow of water.  For people who had lived for a long time near the sound of Niagara Falls, 500,000 tons of water per minute cascading over, the silence they heard was deafening.  Our lives are like that sometimes.  Sometimes the thing that is most troublesome to us is not when there is noise or activity in our life but when there is silence and you sometimes wonder in the midst of your pain where is God.  I don’t see him, I don’t hear him. 

Some of you have walked the painful road of divorce and you know the feeling when you have felt like there has been some measure of failure you felt like God was no where to be found and maybe even felt like God’s people had abandoned you.  Some of you have had dear loved ones go through painful and agonizing experiences of dying and you have wondered in the midst of that where is God?  I want you to know to share the grace of God.  The people that I have drawn the closest to during those worst hours have told me you know pastor, I’ve been angry at God, I’ve talked to God and said things to him and wondered why all this is happening but, you know what pastor, God is so real in my life now.

Here is a third way to share grace.  Grace is shared when you live with hope.  It is a great way to live to say we live a world that is so trapped in the immediate, so trapped in the urgent, so trapped in the necessary, that we lose sight of having a life full of hope.  I Peter 1:13 says “therefore prepare your minds for action,  be self-controlled, set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.  If you live your life with hope you will have an impact on other people.  You will have an opportunity to touch people’s lives because in the midst of whatever circumstances you go through as long as your eyes are on Christ and you live with hope and you that God is in the future and he has a good a glorious future for you, you will have an impact on others. You will share his grace.

There is a scene in The Last Emperor where a young child has been chosen to be the next emperor of China and in that movie his brother asks him what happens when you do something wrong?  The little boy who is the last emperor says well when I do something wrong my servants are punished.  The brother says, that can’t be.  So he takes a glass jar and throws it on the floor and it breaks.  Well the person responsible for administering justice takes one of the emperor’s servants and beats him severely for the breaking of this jar.  So the king breaks a jar and somebody else gets punished.

Jesus turned that on its head.  Because of what we do, because of our rebellion against God, because of our actions, what happened is that the king was punished. 

Here is the last where I want to teach you how to share grace.  Grace is shared when you help give new life in Christ.  New life in Christ was probably the most wondrous way that you can share grace and that is when you introduce people to Jesus Christ.  Colossians 4:6 says “let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt so you may know how to answer everyone”.  There is a great old saying that when you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink but you can give him salt and if you give a horse salt he’ll get thirsty.  I the same way we need to have our speech be full of grace seasoned with salt, make people thirsty to be able to know God.

You have an opportunity, you have been strategically placed to be able to share Christ with others.  Look at this dimension. You have friends that God has strategically placed you in contact with you have neighbors that you can share God’s grace with, you have relatives, you have people at work, you have people at school, other relationships from recreation or other things, God has strategically placed you so that you could impact your world for Christ.

Friends I hope that you believe in grace and I am desperately concerned and committed to seeing that you take this step to receive grace.   If you have believed it, received it, understood it, then I just urge you to be impassioned and emboldened with a commitment to share it and those are the worlds, those are the places where you can share grace and see God at work.

In John 14:26 we read, “Jesus said, the counselor, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name will teach you all things, remind you of everything that I have said to you”.    You may not remember all these things of the past four articles but I trust this that if you commit to being a person who shares grace, if you become a sharer of grace, the Holy Spirit will call to your mind the things that you need to say and the ways that you need to minister.  You know grace has been freely given and if grace has been freely given that means it’s been freely received.  If you know that grace has been freely given and it’s been freely received then we need to freely give it to others.  What is so amazing about grace is that none of us deserve it and yet for all of us it’s available.  I’ve got good news about grace.  It’s available for you.

Good News About Grace: Understand It!

(c) Dr. John Jackson, 2004

Grace is getting love and life that we do not deserve and cannot earn from God who gives it freely.  If you are going to grab hold of grace you have to be able to understand the various dimensions.  You have to first of all believe it.  Secondly, you have to be able to receive personally.  Once your receive it personally then you go to number three which is to understand it. 

This sequence may be somewhat confusing….on the surface, it seems that if you believe it and then you understand then you could receive it.  It seems like you should understand it before you receive it.  But I actually think that that is not the way it works.  I think you have to believe it and once you believe it then you can receive it.   So, if you have not received God’s grace in Jesus Christ, what follows may not be completely understandable.  Here are four “E” words to help you understand grace:

  1. Embrace:  You need to embrace God’s gift of grace to you….recognize your need of it and celebrate God’s gift of it
  • Experience:  Recognize God’s grace when we stumble and we receive gentle, loving correction.  Experience His gift of grace when you see Him at work in your life and in the lives of others
  • Enjoy:  Celebrate when you see God’s grace working in others.  Enjoy the fact that our God is a just and holy God, AND that He gives us His forgiveness and freedom in a gracious and life changing way
  • Energize:  Be energized by giving God’s grace to others.  When you can see somebody who was spiritually dead come to life and somebody who was lost be found, that is energizing!

Someday everyone of us will stand before God.  We will choose to either stand before God on the basis of our efforts, our works, our goodness.   Or, we will stand before God on the basis of His grace which He has given to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  When we understand grace, we begin TODAY to live in the celebration of God’s gifts to us and we marvel at His working of grace in us, through us, and in the lives of those around us.

Understand grace…and celebrate it!

Good News About Grace: Receive It!

(c) Dr. John Jackson, 2004

Our world needs grace.  We need God’s forgiveness and kindness to us

It was 1944 and Burt Freezon was an infantry man on the front lines in Europe.  American forces had advanced in the face of intermittent shelling and small arms fire throughout the morning hours but now all was quiet.  His patrol reached the edge of a wooded area with an open field before them.  Unknown to them a battery of Germans waited in a hedgerow 200 yards across the field.  Burt was one of two scouts who had moved out into the clearing.  Once he was halfway across the field the remainder of his battalion followed.  Suddenly the Germans opened fire and machine gun fire ripped into both of Burt’s legs.  The American battalion withdrew into the woods for protection while a rapid exchange of fire continued.  Burt lay helplessly in a stream as the shots volleyed overhead.  There seemed to be no way out.  To make matters worse he now noticed that a German soldier was crawling towards him.  Death seemed imminent.  He closed his eyes and waited.  To his surprise a considerable period of time passed without the expected attack so he ventured opening his eyes again.  He was startled to see the German soldier kneeling at his side smiling.  He then noticed that the shooting had stopped.  Troops from both sides of the battle field watched anxiously.  Without any verbal exchange this mysterious German leaned down to lift Burt into his arms and proceeded to carry him back to the safety of his comrades on the American side.  Having accomplished its self-appointed mission and still without speaking a word the German soldier turned and walked back across the field to his own troops.  No one dared break the silence of that sacred moment.  Moments the cease fire ended and shots began to ring out again but everybody had seen how one man had risked his life for another.  That is grace in action…but in order to really see grace in operation you not only have to believe it (see Christian Times Today, June 2004 article), but you have to receive it!

You may be familiar with the story in John 8:1-11.  A women was caught in adultery (where was the man?!), and she was brought before Jesus by the religious leaders of the day.  Rather than condemn her, Jesus invited those without sin to cast the first stone.  After everyone left, Jesus exhorted her to leave her life of sin.  The woman deserved death by stoning according to their law and she was no doubt scared and horrified.  Jesus didn’t deny or denounce the law…He just announced a new way.

If you are going to get a grip on grace, if you are going to move from believing it to receiving it you must at some level understand yourself as this woman who has been caught and found guilty.  There is no wiggle room, it wasn’t a cheap camera trick, it wasn’t a national enquirer set up, it was the actual event, the woman was caught in sin.  If you want to grab hold of grace you’ve got to at least for a moment imagine yourself in whatever is the sin issue in your life.  Whatever the rebellion is, wherever the rebellion is, wherever it is that you have been disobedient to God in your life, you must imagine yourself there with nothing but a bed sheet clothing you, you must imagine yourself kneeling before a holy God, your accusers rightfully condemning you and him say, where are your accusers?  And then he says, neither do I condemn you.

In order for you to RECEIVE God’s grace, four things need to happen:

  1. Admit to your death sentence (Romans 6:23)  You must admit the sentence of death.  Until you know that you have a need you will never be able to receive what God freely gives
  2. Recognize that we have a chance at life
  3. Accept freedom from condemnation and sin through God’s free gift of grace in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 8:1-2, John 1:12, John 3:16)
  4. Receive life from the only one who can give it. (Hebrews 4:14-16) 

When the woman was brought to Jesus, she was thrown with her face low to the ground.  It was probably in the moment of the worst shame of her life.  There was only person who could give her life and that was Jesus the Son of God.  And this is also true of me.  And this is also true of you.  There is only one who can give you life.  Not only do you have to believe it’s possible but you have to personally be willing to receive it

In 1829 a Philadelphia man named George Wilson robbed the US mail and he killed someone in the process.  Wilson was arrested and brought to trial, convicted and he was sentenced to be hanged.  Some friends intervened on his behalf and they were finally able to obtain a pardon for Wilson from President Andrew Jackson.  When informed of this, George Wilson effused to accept the pardon.  The sheriff was unwilling to carry out the sentence.  He had a pardon from the President to the United States but Wilson refused to accept the pardon and the sheriff said I am not going to hang a man who has a pardon setting on my desk.  And so the case went all the way to the Supreme Court where the president asked the Supreme Court to rule on this issue.  Must a sheriff carry out a sentence when he has a pardon on his desk for the accused?  The Supreme Court pondered this and Chief Justice ruled that a pardon rejected is no pardon at all.  George Wilson would have to face his sentence.  So George Wilson was hanged to death.  But his pardon was on the sheriff’s desk.

God has made available a pardon for you.  You can choose to reject it and if you do you will continue to live separated from God and not receiving his grace.  But, He loves you and not only wants to believe in grace but to receive.  Do not die while the pardon is sitting on someone’s desk.

Good News About Grace: Believe It!

By Dr. John Jackson, © 2004

            What is local church ministry really all about?  At the church my wife and I founded (https://lifepointnv.com/) we often used the phrase, “Changed Lives are Our Business”.  Understanding both how changed lives take place and what fuels changed lives is key to effective ministry.  I personally believe that the grace of God is the SINGLE greatest ministry vehicle that God uses in our lives.   So, for the next couple of articles, I’d like to “unpack” what I think grace is all about and how you can see God’s grace at work in your ministry.

Philip Yancey, a great Christian writer says “Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more”.  That’s an awesome, freeing concept.  There is nothing that we can do to make God love us more.  But just as important is the understanding that there is nothing that we can do to make God love us less. 

Let me share a few basic facts about grace.  The first fact that I would like to share with is that grace is part of God’s nature, it is just an essential attribute of his being.  Look in Exodus 34:4-6.  It says “Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first one.  He’s talking about the Ten Commandments.  He went up to Mt Sinai early in the morning as the Lord had commanded him and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands.  Then the Lord cam down in a cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord.  He passed in front of Moses proclaiming, the Lord the Lord, the compassionate and gracious Gods, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.  Grace is an awesome experience.  Grace is part of God’s very nature.

Here’s the second thing about grace.  Grace is where we stand in Christ.  Romans 5:1-2 says, “therefore since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  We have peace with God, we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”  When you work, you expect to receive financial benefits.  You are going to trade your time, energy, expertise and at the end of the pay period your employer is going to give you some form of compensation.  It is what you deserve.  It’s what you’re owed, you’ve put out effort and you’ve received that.

That is how we work.  Now let me tell you about grace.  Grace is amazing.  Ever been pulled over by an officer of the law?  There have been times when an officer of the law has pulled me over and has said, do you know how fast you were going?  And I have said, yes sir, or yes ma’am.  Well, did you know you are going faster than the speed limit?  We’re going to give you a ticket and I said yes sir or yes ma’am because I was getting what I deserve.

You know how grace works?  Grace works with the Holy, omnipotent omnipresent God who knows everything and is all powerful giving you what you don’t deserve.  Giving you what you don’t deserve and what you could never earn.  You could never work your way to the place where you could before God and say I’m here, I’ve earned it.  What happens with us and God is the only –place that we can stand in right relationship to God is if we stand in Christ.  If we say to God, God I receive what you freely offered to me and if you could believe it’s a possibility that God could love you in spite of what you deserve, in spite of what you’ve done, in spite of what should occur in your life, and then are starting to grab hold of Grace.  Grace is where we stand in Christ and is the only place where we can stand.

Truth number 3 is that rejecting grace means rejecting the gospel.  If you say to God, I am not going to relate to on the basis of grace I am going to relate to on the basis of what I deserve.  Then you are rejecting the gospel, the good news of what God has made available.  In Ephesians 2:4-5 it says, “because of his great love for us God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions it’s by grace that you have been saved.”

If you have ever studied comparative religions might be interested to know that in the Koran there are a number of promises of righteousness and ultimately God being merciful.  Christian author and speaker, John Stott said this about the Koran, “…the repeated promises in the Koran or the forgiveness of a compassionate, merciful Allah are made to the meritorious whose merits have been weighed in Allah’s scales where as the gospel, the good news of mercy is to be undeserving”.  The symbol of the religion of Jesus Christ is not the scales, it’s the cross.  Something that you could never earn and certainly do not deserve has been freely given to you, that is grace. 

What does it mean to believe in grace?  That’s the first step that I said about grace is that you have to believe in grace, you have to believe that it’s possible.  The God who created Heaven and earth could care rats about you.  I mean really, is it possible that the God who put the heavens in place, the planets in motion, affixed the stars in the awesome sky would care about you.  There are a lot of folks who don’t care about you, let alone God.  Believing in grace means that you can be willing to reach that point where you say maybe it’s just possible that the God who made all of this really would care about me.

Finally, here are three specific things that believing in grace is all about.  First, it means this: it means that you are realizing that grace comes from God’s character.  Believing in grace means realizing that grace comes from God’s character.  There is nothing about grace of God that has to do with me.  There is nsothing about the grace of God that has to do with me being worthy.  The bottom line is that anything about grace that comes from God comes from his character.  He is a gracious God, he is a God who loves to show grace and mercy.

Secondly, believing in grace means recognizing that Jesus perfectly modeled grace.  If you study the life of Christ and you watch how he interacted with people like me and people like you, you’ll see that he perfectly models grace. In John 1:14 it says, “the word became flesh, He made his dwelling among us, we’ve seen His glory, the glory of the one and only who came from the Father full of grace and truth.  Jesus perfectly models grace.”

The third and final thing that believing in grace means is it means responding to both grace and truth in Christ.  In John 1: 16-18 it says “from the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another.  The law was given through Moses but g race and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has even seen God but God the one and only who is at the Father’s side has made Him known”.

On the evening of April 25, 1958 a young Korean exchange student was a leader in student Christian affairs at the University of Pennsylvania.  He left his apartment; He went to the corner to mail a letter to his parents in Korea.  Turning from his mail box he stepped into the path of eleven leather jacketed teen-age boys.  Without a work these boys attached this student, they beat him with their fist, they beat him with a lead pipe, they kicked him with their shoes and they left him in the street.  Later when the police found him in the gutter he was dead.  All of Philadelphia cried out for vengeance against these thugs.  The district attorney secured to try the boys as adults so that they could be found guilty and therefore be eligible to receive capital punishment.  In the midst of the trial and in the midst of all the horror a letter was received by the district attorney and it was written by the boy’s parents in Korea.  Not only by the boy’s parents but by twenty other relatives of this young boy and here is what it said, “Our family has met together, we’ve decided to petition that the most generous treatment possible within the laws of your government be given to those who committed this criminal action.  In order to give evidence of our sincere hope contained in this petition, we have decided to save money to start a fund to be used for the religious educational, vocational and social guidance of the boys when they are released.  We have dared to express our hope with the spirit received from the gospel of our savior Jesus Christ who died for our sins.”

I don’t know if I could write that letter if it was my child.  Grace, God’s grace is amazing.  Could you dare to believe it is for you?

Women Have Natural Leadership Advantages

“Women Have Natural Leadership Advantages”

by Dr. John Jackson, © 2003

Most people agree that women generally have a more finely tuned relationship radar than men.  In part, that may be because of how women and men differ in the way their brains function.  Clinical studies have shown that women think with both hemispheres (the creative and the analytical) of their brain simultaneously, while men are wired up to think with each hemisphere sequentially.  Because of this, I think women have some natural leadership advantages.  Leadership is more like family than it is like war.

Leadership requires a focus on the future and strategic decision making ability.  And, since I am one, I like to think that there are lots of good leaders who are men!  But, I see a number of leadership dimensions where women may have a natural leadership advantage.  Dr. John Maxell defines leadership as “influence”.  If that is true, we want to be sure to exercise our leadership influence opportunities with the greatest of care.  I’ve learned over the years that leadership influence rests on certain principles.  So how is leadership more like family than it is like war?

Leadership rests on relationship.  While you can certainly be a leader on the basis of a position or on the basis of strength or power, that form of leadership does not change the heart and character of a person.  Leadership based on force or demand may cause someone to act, but it will not cause them to change.  Leadership that rests on relationship recognizes the connection of heart, the sharing of a dream, and the stirring of hope that comes when people are in relationship.  Women have a “natural” advantage in this area of leadership development.

Leadership requires commitment for the long haul.  Many leaders make the mistake of accepting a leadership role and then only thinking short term in that role.  My experience suggests that lasting leadership thinks of the long haul.  Rather than a “sprint”, leadership is generally a “marathon”.  Because women generally have greater endurance than men, I think women are uniquely suited for leadership that lasts!

Leadership means both strategic focus AND simultaneous sensitivity.  When we first had children, I would periodically “watch the children” when my wife went out for the evening.  When she’d return, she’d find that we’d had a wonderful time….but did nothing other than play and have fun.  When she watched the children, she’d also be cooking dinner, doing laundry, talking on the phone, cleaning the kitchen, and planning her next day’s activities!  I’d get a headache just thinking about it.  Leadership does require strategic focus…but it also requires simultaneous sensitivity to multiple dimensions of behavior, data, and complexity.  Because women think with both hemispheres simultaneously, women have a natural leadership advantage!

The truth is, I think God has given both men and women leadership advantages.  God has “wired us” so that we have a natural complementary nature.  Married couples that make it recognize their spouses as “God-gifts” because of their unique and complimentary gift mixes.  Since leadership is influence, I think God has positioned women for major leadership impact in the relationship fabric of our lives.  Women….seize your leadership opportunities and influence your world for Christ!

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